Fact Check: Hydroxychloroquine, Zinc And Zithromax Are NOT A Cure For COVID-19

Fact Check

  • by: Dana Ford

STORY UPDATED: check for updates below.

Fact Check: Hydroxychloroquine, Zinc And Zithromax Are NOT A Cure For COVID-19 Bad Science

Are hydroxychloroquine, zinc and Zithromax a cure for COVID-19? No, that's not true: As Lead Stories reported previously, global health experts continue to say that there are no drugs that have been shown to prevent or cure the infection.

The claim appeared in a Facebook post (archived here). The post included a video and the following text:

BREAKING American Doctors Address COVID-19 Misinformation with SCOTUS Press Conference...Truth vs Lies!! If you don't watch this you may as well just bury your head in the sand!!

This is what the post looked like at the time of writing:

Facebook screenshot

(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Tue Jul 28 15:06:29 2020 UTC)

The 45-minute video captures a press conference that was given by a newly formed group called America's Frontline Doctors in Washington, D.C. It's gone viral. Although several social media platforms, including Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, removed the video for violating their policies, it could still be found in countless locations.

The video includes a brief introduction by Simone Gold, founder of America's Frontline Doctors. Several doctors follow her and then the floor is opened up for questions. Among the attendees was U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, a Republican from South Carolina.

There are many false and misleading claims in the video. At the top of the list is the claim that hydroxychloroquine, zinc and Zithromax are a cure for COVID-19. That was stated by Stella Immanuel, a physician from Houston, Texas. We'll examine her claims here.

At 8:32, Immanuel said:

This virus has a cure. It is called hydroxychloroquine, zinc and Zithromax. I know you people want to talk about a mask. Hello? You don't need [a] mask. There is a cure. I know they don't want to open schools. No, you don't need people to be locked down. There is prevention and there is a cure.

To the contrary, global experts say there is no known cure for coronavirus. They also emphasize the importance of wearing masks to help limit the spread of the disease, as can be seen here, here and here.

To date, no drugs have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prevent or treat COVID-19. The World Health Organization similarly says "there are no medicines that have been shown to prevent or cure the disease." WHO also stresses that it does not recommend self-medication in a bid to prevent or cure coronavirus.

Much has been made of hydroxychloroquine as of late.

President Donald Trump, who retweeted the viral video of the press conference, has endorsed the drug, which is typically used to treat arthritis and prevent malaria. Some early studies showed that it might be useful in treating COVID-19, but other research has questioned that conclusion.

During the conference, Immanuel cited a 2005 study as the reason why she started using hydroxychloroquine. Indeed, that study found that "chloroquine is effective in preventing the spread of SARS CoV in cell culture." But her comparison is like one comparing apples and oranges. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) isn't the same as COVID-19. Chloroquine isn't hydroxychloroquine -- and cell cultures aren't people.

Last month, the National Institute of Health (NIH) halted a clinical trial to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, determining that while there was no harm, the drug was "very unlikely to be beneficial to hospitalized patients with COVID-19." In a somewhat similar vein, this month, the FDA cautioned against the use of hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 outside of a clinical trial or a hospital setting, citing the risk of heart rhythm problems. The FDA has also revoked the emergency use authorization for hydroxychloroquine.

Addressing studies that show hydroxychloroquine doesn't work, Immanuel said this at the 8-minute mark:

If some fake science, some person sponsored by all these fake pharma companies comes out say, "we've done studies and they found out that it doesn't work," I can tell you categorically it's fake science. I want to know who is sponsoring that study. I want to know who is behind it because there is no way I can treat 350 patients, and counting, and nobody is dead and they all did better.

But broad generalizations cannot be made from Immanuel's experience with her patients. That's why researchers conduct studies.

At 8:55, Immanuel, who said she put herself and others on her staff on hydroxychloroquine as a prevention measure, mocked the idea of double-blind studies:

Quit sounding like a computer, double blinded, double blinded. I don't know whether your chips are malfunctioning, but I'm a real doctor.

Double-blind studies, specifically, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled studies are thought to be the "gold standard" of epidemiologic studies. They are designed to prevent bias. Notably: In the first double-blind randomized, placebo-controlled trial of hydroxychloroquine, researchers found that the drug did not prevent people exposed to COVID-19 from becoming infected themselves.

Of course, there's a lot that researchers still don't know about the novel coronavirus. That's why more studies are needed -- and that's why researchers around the world are focused on finding possible treatments or a vaccine for COVID-19. At this point, though, we can say definitively that hydroxychloroquine, zinc and Zithromax are not a known cure.

On the issue of masks, Immanuel appears to have had a change of heart. In another video, this one posted back in April to the Facebook page of Rehoboth Medical Center, Immanuel advises people to wear masks. In the video, she is seen wearing what looks to be an N95 mask, even though at the conference in Washington, D.C., she said that she and her staff only wear surgical masks, which offer less protection. Here's what she said about masks in the video posted to the Facebook page of Rehoboth Medical Center:

We are out here in the frontlines so you can stay home and be safe. If you must get out of the house, like to a doctor's office or somewhere essential, stay six feet away from people that are not part of your household. Wash your hands all the time. Wear a mask or a scarf, anything to cover your face.

Several of the same doctors who appeared at the press conference reassembled on the Capitol steps on Tuesday, July 28, 2020, to respond to the negative media coverage, social media takedowns and fact checking of their first video. Gold repeated the claim that hydroxychloroquine is a cure for COVID-19. The original version of that video was deleted by YouTube for violating community standards about four hours after it was uploaded.